27 July 2007

Rioting, week 3

I am now three weeks into the Riot for Austerity. I didn’t post an update last week because I just got too busy. I am trying to apply the 90% reduction to computer time as well.

Gasoline: I blew it this week. We filled the gas tank last weekend and it cost $73! Holy Moley! I took Moira to camp and that was a 50-mile round trip. But swimming lessons are over, so that cut out 10 miles every day for four days. The problem was that today I had to go back and get her again. Even worse, we got almost home and stopped at the beach to go swimming. Then she discovered that she forgot her towel at camp. So we had to go back for another 40-mile round trip to get it again. Our tank is now almost empty. Terry only drove to work three days this week. He was ill on Monday, and didn’t feel like riding his bike, so he drove, then came home after just two hours. The next two days he felt well enough to work, but not well enough to ride.

Electricity: I still don’t know how much we use, so I am just trying to reduce in general. We moved the computers upstairs to our bedroom so it is much more inconvenient to be on them before the kids go to bed. It works – we are on them less now. Our freezer is chock full, which I understand helps keep the energy use down.

Heating and cooking: We got a woodstove on Freecycle. That also contributed to our gasoline consumption since it was also about a 50-mile round trip to get it. It is currently in the back of the van and we have no idea how we are going to get it out of the van, or where we will put it once it is out. But at least we know we will be warm this winter, regardless of where we are living. I have been trying to convince my husband to take the plunge and buy some bare land and go year-round camping. Our lease is up in one month. We will see if he goes for it.

Garbage: I still don’t have a scale with which to weigh my garbage, and I am not inclined to buy one, either. I am now taking the trash out every two or three days, and it is not full to the top, but it is heavy enough to threaten ripping the bag when I take it out of the can.

Water: We have stopped flushing for every single toilet use. I did have to start actually putting the lid down because the baby found the colored water fascinating. My girls learned the little rhyme I learned from a fellow rioter: If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down. They then started asking about if the pee turned brown, does it count as brown or yellow? I said they could flush it then. My husband flushes it when he can smell it from outside the bathroom (usually it also means the lid is up). I am also washing the dishes in a sink of water about half the time now instead of in constantly running water. I still don’t know, however, what our actual numbers are for usage.

Consumer goods: In addition to not flushing the toilet anymore, we stopped using toilet paper. My husband has brought home around 200 washcloths over the last two years from work, so I put them to use. I have a pile on the back of each toilet, and a bucket in the downstairs bathroom. The TP does come out when we have company, though. Consumer goods I am noticing is a tough one to kick. We went to the bookstore and spent far more money than I had originally anticipated. The sneaky part is that my brain has a way of justifying each and every purchase. Whether that justification is logical or not is a matter of opinion. The Field guide to edible wild plants and the book about tanning and skinning were based on our preparation for the future and self-sufficiency. Harry Potter, though, is Harry Potter. You can’t refuse. Next on my book list is a book that Sharon Astyk mentioned in her food preservation blog.

I am still plugging away on my rug, too. I want to finish it before I start any new projects. It is trying my limited patience. I am not one to finish things that I start, and that is something I have to conquer. I may not make it as large as I originally intended (which was 4’ by 6’), but I will go until I have used up all the sheets I assigned to it. It is already about 12-18” wide now, and maybe 3’ long.

We are also starting the house-hunting procedure. I am hoping to buy a piece of property this fall, before the dollar completely fails, even if the housing market does crash shortly thereafter. It would be very nice of the housing market crashes before the dollar, but I don’t know if I want to bet on that.

12 July 2007

First week on 90% Reduction

Last week I joined the Riot for Austerity - 90% reduction. Somehow I failed to find the actual rules for it until I asked on the email list this morning. So here is my first "status report".

A bit of background:
I live with my husband, our four children, a cat, and in the summer and on weekends, my oldest daughter lives with us, too. We live in a rowhouse, which I am guessing is about 1000 sq ft. We live on the outskirts of the county seat, which is a small city. We are fortunate in that we live in a very environmentally conscious and liberal county. Our city bus system has switched over most of the busses to biodiesel, most of the traffic lights are LED, and the mayor was elected as a write-in. As far as cities go, I absolutely love this one. We live 1.5 miles from my husband's work, and I stay home with the kids and homeschool. My oldest (who lives with her dad during the school year) just turned 11, and my children who live with me are 8, 5, 3, and 8.5 months.

Okay, on to the status report.
1. Gasoline. First I decided to calculate how much gas we currently use in our lifestyle. There was a time when we both worked 45+ minutes from home in opposite directions and drove out of state several times a year. We used to put 20k miles a year on our '1994 Chevy Astro. But then we had too many kids for daycare to be a reasonable option, I hated being away from the kids so much anyway, so I quit and that freed up quite a bit of driving. My oldest lives 90 miles away from us, and my ex and I split the driving evenly, with each of us making the trip back and forth to pick her up. We tried moving closer to her to cut down on the travel (everyone hates being in the car for a 4 hour round trip, especially the younger kids), and my husband got a job just 15 minutes from my ex's house as a first step to moving us out there. He commuted 1:15 each way every day for several months before we realized we were never going to move out there. That was a lot of gas back then. Now my husband works 1.5 miles from home in a nursing home. We still make that 90 mile trek every other weekend, but that is the only major driving we have to do. We even got a bike so hubby can bike to work. I only drive now to take the kids to swim lessons (over next week, thank goodness), and to run errands, which I try to consolidate. Some places we can walk, like to church (3/4 mile away). Some places we can take the bus, like the library. Over the last three months, we have spent $300 on gas. At just a few cents under $3 a gallon here, that is about 35 gallons per month. For a household of 7 (since much of that is going to get my oldest, I am counting her), that is 5 gallons per person per month. Considerably higher than the goal of 10 gallons per person per year. It is a 180 mile round trip, we get 20 mpg, so going to get my daughter every other weekend takes 9 gallons of gas each trip. That sounds about right since we have a 22 gallon tank and it takes almost a half a tank. If we subtract 9 from our 35, that gives us 26 that the 6 others of us use. That breaks down to just over 4 gallons per person per month. Still not down to 90%, but a lot better than it used to be. Once summer is over and hubby is biking to work regularly (not calling up at 2 and saying, "Honey, my legs ache after not riding a bike for 20 years and then walking all day. Can you come get me?"), and there are no more swim lessons or camps to take the kids to each day, I will see if I can get my driving down to just twice a week.

2. Electricity. Our electricity is included in our rent, and my property manager hasn't emailed me back about finding out how much we use. When we were paying for our own, I seem to recall we used 7-8 kWh per day. We now have an upright freezer and a mini-fridge that we got to help us to buy local and in bulk, and we also now have a washer and dryer, though I only use the dryer on rainy days, in the winter, and on days like today when the baby has a double ear infection and won't let me put him down long enough to hang laundry. I'm sure my electric usage is now higher than 7-8 per day, but I think it is still below average, especially since we don't have A/C. The baby did find the electric heater controls though, and every once in a while I get to wondering why I am roasting alive. If the goal is 90kWh/month, that breaks down to 3 per day. I have a ways to go on that one, too. We are pretty good at shutting off lights and box fans in empty rooms, and I am doing well at not having my computer run 12-16 hours a day anymore. It's progress.

3. Heating and Cooking. These are both electric here. See above. I have gotten better about keeping the temperature down in the winter. I grew up with a woodstove and got used to being able to be 85° in the middle of winter just by sitting near the stove. I am now down to being comfortable at 68°. Hubby would be happy if we dropped it more, but I am still struggling with that. On the other hand, I can tolerate more heat in the summer than he can. He relies on strategically placed box fans. We have 3 box fans and one window fan. The window fan is in our bedroom and is on whenever the baby or we are sleeping. So probably 12-14 hours a day. Two box fans are in the girls' rooms - one each. They are on when they are in their rooms - probably 12 hours a day. There is also one downstairs for during the day and when DH and I are still up after the kids go to bed. It is on probably 8-10 hours a day. For reference, we live in southwestern NH, so although we don't get 110° weather, we did have 95° and 95% humidity just a couple days ago. I'd like to experience the desert sometime, just for comparison. :)

4. Garbage. We finally got off our duffs and started taking advantage of the recycling center. Our city couldn't have made it any easier without coming to our house to pick it up for us. All we have to separate are the papers from the corrugated from all other containers, including all plastic #1-5 and #7, glass, steel, you name it. The problem was that we have a dumpster on site here (included in our rent), and it was very hard to make it a priority to do the right thing instead of the easy thing. One day last month, DH surprised me, though and brought home two huge plastic totes. I popped them in the mudroom, labeled one "Paper, cardboard" and the other "Glass, plastic, metal" and we drastically cut our trash. Dh has a soda drinking problem though, so we have a huge amount of plastic 2-liter bottles to recycle. Two 2-liters a day is typical. He has been trying to quit for years now. I try not to nag him about it because that is his worst vice. He doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, doesn't womanize, doesn't gamble. He is wonderful. I just wish we could eliminate that source of trash. Before recycling, we would fill a 13-gallon barrel about once a day. Mostly with soda bottles. Now we are filling about 2 a week. I decided that I have to take it out that often whether it is full or not (it usually is), because once I waited longer and found icky maggots between the bag and the can. I don't know what they were doing there, but I didn't want them around at all. Ick. Yuck. I have never weighed our trash, and I don't have a bathroom scale with which to do so. I will have to find some way to weigh it though, since the goal of 1/2 pound per person per day is by weight. For a family of 7, that allows us 3.5 pounds per day. If a bag of our trash weighs about 20 pounds or so, then we are about twice the goal. Still not bad, though.

5. Water. Again, this is included in our rent, so I don't know how much we use. I shower 1-2 times a week, DH showers 2-4 times a week (depending on the heat), and the kids get 1-3 baths during the week (depending on how dirty they get), which they double up in, i.e. 2 kids per bath. My oldest showers about 1-2 times a week. DH shaves about twice a week. To improve there, DD and I can take shorter showers (mine are about 20 minutes, hers are about 40 - I have no idea what she does in all that time! She doesn't have anything to shave yet.) We can also turn off the water while we lather. DH takes pretty quick showers, about 10 minutes. He shaves before he gets in. I just asked him and he uses running water to shave instead of filling the sink. He also just volunteered to start filling the sink to save water. I have no idea how much water our washer uses, but I use it probably 7-8 times a week. One load a day handles all our clothes and towels and whatnot. The occasional extra load comes from sheets. We have no bedwetters, and even the baby will wake me up in the middle of the night when he needs to go potty, so our bed stays dry, too. Unless he is sick, like last night, when he had a fever well over 101. For dishes, we wash by hand. We only have enough dishes to last one meal, so we wash after each meal. I confess that I allow the water to run while I wash dishes. I have always hated washing dishes. Hated it with a passion. It was so bad that I used to let the dishes pile up literally for days and there were flies all over my kitchen. I just could not face a sink full of soapy water. So to keep CPS away I had to start washing dishes. Doing it with the water running was the only way I could face it. I do need to start saving water by using the plug in the sink.

6. Consumer Goods. Here we probably are closest to target. Our income is only $23k/year, nearly all of which is spent on rent, food, gas, and child support. After some inspiration from some of the others, we will be cutting out our toilet paper expenses. We have probably 200 washcloths that DH has brought home from work. He puts them in his pocket to mop his brow at work and then forgets them there and brings them home. So we have quite a stock for using as TP. We have not been using more than maybe a roll or two of paper towels a year, and we can now eliminate even that. We have never bought napkins. My kids recently lamented for some, so we found some white muslin, ripped it into 17" squares and hemmed them. (Ripping ensures straight threads.) They are having great fun using them. I use only local castile soap (from Vermont Soap) for shampoo, soap (duh), and nearly all household uses. I will soon be using it for dishes (once I start filling the sink and then finish using the Seventh Generation dish detergent I have), and *maybe* laundry. I am currently using Sun and Earth brand laundry detergent. I have used Borax and washing soda in the past, but wasn't thrilled with the results. I don't know if it was the soda or the washer that was the issue, so I should try the washing soda again. Vermont Soap can be used for laundry it says, so I wrote to them and asked how much to use. They said 1/4 to 1/3 cup. I nearly fell over. I would only get 8 loads of laundry out of the 16 oz bottle and it costs over $7 a bottle. I started experimenting with not using any detergent in my laundry, and no one has noticed yet. I do use detergent when there are poopy diapers in there, though. Too much icky factor for me there. But my son only poops once every day or three, so that isn't very often. And sometimes I even manage to catch it in the potty. Our biggest consumer goods costs are buying DVDs at Walmart, and our WoW accounts. All total it is far far less than $10k per year. I will have to do some more research to find out where we stand in relation to $1k per year.

7. Food. We receive food stamps and also patron the two local food pantries. It took me a long time to start using the food pantries, but once neighbors started bringing me their unwanted organic foods from there, I started going. We get our milk raw from a small commercial dairy (maybe 50 cows, all of whom are named and loved), just under 30 miles away. We get our honey from a farm stand/market about 20 miles away that gets it from an apiary somewhere here in NH. I think it might be Littleton, but I'm not sure. They sell it in bulk, and I just bring back my glass jars for refilling. My spices are all organic, from Frontier/Simply Organic, which I get at either that farm market 20 miles away if I am there already, or at my local supermarket 2 miles away. My supermarket has a huge organic/natural food section. I am very lucky. I visited my local farmer's market last week for the first time, and we brought home some salad greens and some strawberries. Yum! I have been getting my eggs from a neighbor down the road, but she got rid of her chickens because she is afraid she is losing her house. She offered to let me grow a garden in her yard, but if she is selling, I don't want to lose my garden. Grass-fed beef is available at the dairy, but we haven't bought any yet. We eat way too much meat to afford grass-fed. I don't know any other way of eating. As in, I haven't experienced any other way of eating, not that I don't know there are other ways out there. When I met DH, he ate red meat probably 5 times a week. He still would if we could afford it. Our food efforts have focused lately more on organic than local, but if we can achieve both at the same time, I will jump on it with both feet. I have no yard that is safe from vandalism here except my patio, so I need to get off my duff and plant something in containers. I just need to get containers. We almost never eat out, so we are doing well there. I cook almost entirely from scratch. Whatever processed/package stuff we get almost always comes from the food pantry.

I think that's it. That is where we are at the end of our first week.

04 July 2007

Eye Opener

I have been doing a lot of reading about peak oil, global warming, and overpopulation lately. Most of what I have read indicates that we are currently about 5 billion people over the sustainable population of the Earth. The sites I have visited talk about how there will be massive scale deaths as we run out of resources to support ourselves. That many people will have to die and not be replaced to being us back in balance with the Earth.

Now, I have often ranted about the incompetence of the FDA. I see them approving drugs that have not been satisfactorily tested, or the tests have been horribly biased. I see too frequent drug recalls because the products were not tested or were tainted. I see more side effects listed on drugs than conditions they are meant to treat. I see our society trading in acute, usually non-fatal diseases (if good hygiene is maintained) for long, drawn out chronic disease. We vaccinate our children, pumping them full of mercury and then wonder why they get brain-damaged. We have chosen autism over mumps. Our medicines often cause as many problems as they treat.

For the longest time, I thought this was sheer incompetence or arrogance. Now I think I understand why it happens. We have known that we have overpopulated the world for some time. But of course, we aren’t going to just have a mass suicide to bring our population down to a sustainable level. Nor can we advocate mass murder to do the same. But we can impoverish our health, dropping our sperm counts and fertility, thus reducing our reproduction and slowing our population boom. We couldn’t do it ourselves, but we could allow someone else to do it for us. So now I just have to wonder if they are arrogant for assuming that we would be okay with this or that they could do it without our catching on, or if they are genius for figuring out how to swindle our numbers without our knowledge.